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The population of Puerto Rico is approximately 3.9 million (U.S. Census Bureau, 2001). Recent genetic research proves that the majority of Puerto Ricans are of mixed European and African descent with varying degrees of American Indian influence (The Great Puerto Rican Family, 2004). Ninety-one percent of the population lives in the island’s urban centers.

The Great Puerto Rican Family (La Gran Familia Puertorriqueña)

“The concept of the Great Puerto Rican Family describes how Puerto Rican people see themselves: the authentic inheritors of an ancestral history.  First used in the 1770s, the term helps convey the idea that the Puerto Rican people, no matter what their racial background, are part of a unique Puerto Rican culture born of a mixture of European, African, and Indian traditions.”

(The Great Puerto Rican Family, 2004).


The official languages of Puerto Rico are Spanish and English (Puerto Rico, 2004). Spanish is generally spoken in business, and taught as the first language in schools. English is taught from kindergarten through high school. Some private schools offer “English only” programs where English is spoken exclusively (Rivera, 2005).


Health services in Puerto Rico are managed by the Department of Health, which is seeking to delegate the delivery of services to the private sector, thereby creating one healthcare system. This change would curb the dramatic recent increase in healthcare costs and avoid duplication of functions.  Public health authorities appear to be focusing less on the actual delivery of daily health services and more on the promotion of healthier lifestyles. 

The island is divided into 7 regions and 2 sub-regions that are further divided into 16 areas.  People access medical services at primary healthcare centers, which then make referrals to higher levels within the system.  Puerto Ricans have an average life expectancy of 74.5 years.  Heart disease and cancer are the two leading causes of death (Pan American Health Organization, 2001).

Educational System

In Puerto Rico, where compulsory education is deemed very important, sixty percent of the population has received a high school diploma or better. (Rivera-Schoendorf, n.d.) Most students are enrolled in public schools, although some do go to private schools. Puerto Rico has “one of the highest” college education rates in the world, with 56% of college-age students attending institutions of higher learning (Rivera, 2005b).

The public school system is administered by the Department of Education and has an organizational structure that is similar to the grade-level designations used in the United States.

Grade Level Grading
Post-Graduate Higher Education      (Optional) Letter Grading
College Prep- Vocational High School(Compulsory) Letter grading
12th grade - 18
11th grade - 17-18
10th grade - 16-17
9th Grade – 14-15 Secondary(Compulsory) Letter grading
8th Grade – 13-14
7th Grade – 12-13
6th Grade – 11-12 Primary(Compulsory) QualitativeGrading;Satisfactory & Unsatisfactory
5th Grade – 10-11
4th Grade – 9-10
3rd Grade – 8-9
2nd Grade – 7-8
1rst grade –6-7
Preschool 3-5 Preschool Level(Optional)  

Adapted from: Rivera, M. (2005c). Welcome to Puerto Rico: People. Retrieved from http://welcome.topuertorico.org/people.shtml

School is compulsory for those between ages 5 and 18 (primary and secondary school years; Rivera, 2005c).  Educational institutions are abundant in Puerto Rico (over 1500 public schools, over 500 private schools, and over 50 colleges).  The overall literacy rate is 90% (Rivera, 2005c).  Puerto Rico allocates approximately 40% of its budget for education (Rivera, 2005c). The medium of instruction in most schools is Spanish, but English is taught as part of the curriculum from kindergarten through high school (Rivera, 2005c).

Puerto Rican Holidays

Date English Name Spanish Name Remarks
January 1 New Year’s Day Año Nuevo  
January 5 Three Wise Men Eve Víspera de los Tres Reyes Magos Traditionally, children leave a glass of water for the Three Wise Men and a box with grass for their camels.
January 6 Three Wise Men Día de los Tres Reyes Magos Traditionally, children will find that the camels ate the grass and the Three Wise Men drank the water they left for them the previous day.
First Monday in January Birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Nacimiento de Martin Luther King, Jr.;Conmemoración del Natalicio de Martin Luther King, Jr.  
Third Monday in February President’s Day Día del presidente;Natalicio de Washington  
July 4 Independence Day 4 de Julio;Día de la Independencia;Día de la Independencia de Estados Unidos  
July 25 Commonwealth of Puerto Rico 25 de JulioConmemoración del ELA;Conmemoración del Estado Libre y Asociado  
First Monday in September Labor Day Día del Trabajo;  Second Monday in October; Columbus Day Descubrimiento de América  
November 11 Veteran's Day Día del Veterano;Día de la Recordación Official national celebration held at the Puerto Rico National Cemetery
Fourth Thursday in November Thanksgiving Day Acción de Gracias;Día de Acción de Gracias;Día del Pavo  
December 24 Christmas Eve Fin de Año  Nochebuena;Día de Nochebuena Children in Puerto Rico do NOT leave cookies or milk for Santa.
December 25 Christmas Día de Navidad;Navidad;Nacimiento del niñito Jesús;Día del niño Jesús Traditionally, Santa Claus will leave the Christmas presents under the Christmas tree.
December 31 New Year's Eve Año Viejo  

Other Elements of Popular Culture

As is the case with other aspects of Puerto Rican culture, the indigenous Taino inflence, as well as the Spanish (Latin) and African heritages of the island have all shaped Puerto Rican music (Music of Puerto Rico, 2005).  The different genres of Puerto Rican music include the bomba, danza (the style of the Puerto Rican national anthem), décima, seis, aguinaldo, and plena. 

Most Americans are familiar with Puerto Rican pop and salsa music through such internationally famous performers as Ricky Martin , Jennifer Lopez, José Feliciano, Marc Anthony, and Tito Puente and his Latin Jazz Ensemble (Music of Puerto Rico Foundation, 2004).  Although Puerto Rican music originated among the Puerto Rican community in New York (drawing from Cuban and Afro-Caribbean roots), some would argue that the center of salsa has moved back to

©2005 Maria de Lourdes Serpa.
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